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Study shows office politics to be rife in the civil service

WHISPERS BY the water cooler, a quick gossip as the kettle boils, or a raised eyebrow in a meeting - we’ve all experienced the effects of office politics at work and a new survey has uncovered which fields are more likely to produce them.

DBS check provider, uCheck, wanted to delve deeper into the office politics of business sectors throughout the UK, to find out which industry harboured the highest levels of hushed conversations. They also wanted to see how people felt about office politics, asking whether it was something to avoid at all costs or a tactic to help you get ahead at work?

The survey also asked whether people felt that office politics existed in their workplace. The results of the survey found that the civil service had the highest rate of office politics (78% according to employees in that sector), followed by advertising (77%) and engineering (also 77%). According to the survey, it’s the legal sector that has the lowest levels of office politics (57%), followed by tourism (60%) and the retail sector (62%).

Following in similar suit, nearly a third of survey respondents felt that office politics can be a positive phenomenon in the work place, 59% holding this view were, again, men. Furthermore, almost half of workers felt that getting involved in office politics was unavoidable, however when separated by gender it was pretty close; 48% of women believing they could avoid office politics if they wanted to, compared to 52% of men.

uCheck consulted leading psychologist, Robert Stewart, who says:

“It may appear surprising that such a considerable number of people find office politics unavoidable, however, it is worth considering that standing around the water cooler discussing colleagues doesn’t stray too far from our evolution, albeit with watercoolers replaced with waterholes and colleagues with predators.

"People have a natural tendency to want to find their position within a group or tribe, so office politics becomes an inherent part of the work environment. People can often feel that if colleagues are engaging in talk around others, that they can become the object of the topic unless they become complicit. Thus to be part of the in-group, they feel it a necessity to become involved. Often others will seek their opinions on colleagues, thus leaving the individual with little choice but to voice their thoughts.

"When thinking about office politics and how to manage it, consider the longer-term outcome. A small conversation may benefit you there with that person, but the longer-term impact of others judgements of you will be much more damaging. Prepare yourself a script; ‘I can see your point, but it’s really not my place to comment etc’. You may receive the cold shoulder or feel silly, but your reputation will soon become consistent as the person who doesn’t engage in office politics and therefore is more trustworthy. Living by a specific set of valued behaviours will benefit you more than any.”

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